One Westman direct-to-market farmer says smaller producers across the province are being burdened by strict food safety laws that make sustainable, environmentally friendly small agricultural practices difficult to find success.

Owned and operated by Janelle Lach, Mad Dog Produce is a vegetable farm that also sells eggs and meat north of Plumas. All Lach’s vegetables are raised without the use of any chemicals and are available to customers through subscription boxes.

Current food safety laws in Manitoba, which are set by Manitoba Food and Food Handling Establishments Regulation and Manitoba Water Supplies Regulation under the province’s Public Health Act, shouldn’t be a one-sized-fits-all approach for all producers, regardless of the size of their operations, Lach told the Sun.

“The Manitoba government has some ridiculously strict food safety laws that seem totally directed towards making life hard and expensive for the small producer,” Lach said.

Lach struggles to make sense of this, since she says the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly way for consumers to buy food is to shop local and support their local farmers, butchers and bakeries.

“This is a practice that is centuries old,” she said.

Customers should be the ones making decisions on whether or not they are able to trust a producer’s food safety standards, she added. But requirements such as commercial kitchens for food preparation or meat hawking licenses muddy those waters.

Currently, all meat hawkers in Manitoba — defined as third parties who sell meat and meat products that originate from approved meat processing plants — require valid health permits issued annually by a public health inspector. Meat hawkers are not allowed to sell meat or meat products that are made with uninspected meat.

All red meat, including beef, pork, lamb, goat, bison, rabbit and more, must be processed in a government-inspected abattoir, and all meat products to be sold must be made from carcasses that have passed government inspection. All meat products must be made in a government-inspected facility.

A meat hawking license and equipment standards mean that small butchers, who might process one animal a week, are at a disadvantage compared to large meat processing facilities, Lach said.

“As a result, the small butcher goes under because obviously he doesn’t make the revenue to buy brand new equipment,” she said. “I know that the conditions of small butcher shops are way cleaner and way more controlled and that the process is way more sustainable.”

Lach also can’t bring her pasture-raised chicken eggs to market but can only legally sell them from her home due to a provincial regulation that states chicken eggs must come from a federally registered facility where they are graded. Ungraded eggs can be sold to consumers without a permit, but are not able to be sold to restaurants, retail establishments or at a farmers’ market. Grading eggs can only take place in a government-inspected facility, and to grade chicken eggs the facility must be federally registered.

That leads to fresh, local eggs raised by chickens that enjoy humane treatment and surroundings are less accessible to consumers, Lach says.

“My eggs are raised by hens who see the light of day. The shells are washed just lightly with some water,” she said. “Why don’t we want to promote the better-quality, healthier eggs and make them more accessible?”

Other direct-to-market regulations state that all prepackaged foods must meet federal labeling requirements and that, while whole fruits and vegetables can be sold without a permit freely throughout the province, any cutting or other processing of fruits and vegetables must take place in a government-inspected facility.

The province allows home food producers to sell “low risk” homemade items like jams, jellies, and baked goods at farmers’ markets with permits it issues. But to operate a food business, the person in charge must successfully complete an approved Food Handler Certification training program.

Lach isn’t alone in her frustrations. Phil Veldhuis, president of Direct Farm Manitoba, agrees that food safety regulations that are the same for large producers as small ones create a burden for small farmers.

Pointing to traceability requirements, Veldhuis says current regulations assume that food products are being passed from one organization to another while being processed, which is not the case for small producers.

“There isn’t a sort of chain of paperwork that needs to be traced, so it does take some effort on the part of farmer,” Veldhuis, who owns a bee farm near Starbuck Manitoba, says. “They’re really designed for large food-chain industries.”

Food safety and traceability regulations are in place to keep consumers safe, says Kristie Beynon, Direct Farm Manitoba’s executive director, but it’s also important to ensure that people can purchase food directly from producers if they wish to.

It’s especially important that any regulations make allowances for the scale of operations, Beynon says. For example, smaller farms may not have separate buildings for different types of products since they may only have a handful of animals. As per provincial guidelines, all meat and meat products intended for sale must be stored in a separate dedicated refrigerator or freezer.

“It’s time to look at those regulations and really look at scale with those,” Beynon said.

The Sun asked the Province of Manitoba’s agriculture department if there are any programs currently in place to help small producers comply with regulations but did not receive a reply by press time.

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 06, 2023 at 07:54

This item reprinted with permission from   Brandon Sun   Brandon, Manitoba
Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated